the book of my lives / my new life

several months ago i read a book which stuck with me until now, and one i think i would be remembering (& referencing) for a long time.. i waited for the right moment to write about this book on my blog, as part of my little book club. it is aleksandar hemon’s memoir “the book of my lives”. critics praised hemon’s writing style, often comparing him to vladimir nabokov, both for their style and the fact that they both started writing in a foreign language rather late in their lives.

since i am no book critic, i will not focus on such particularities; i liked hemon’s work for other reasons. in this post i will focus on three of them and, finally, reflect further on the last one.

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i liked what he wrote about sarajevo, bosnia & the way people used to be before the war started. he describes sarajevo as “the world capital of gossip”, says that people of sarajevo “hated pretentiousness; it was a form of self-hatred” and later confirms what we all know.. that “there’s no word for “privacy” in bosnian”.

aleksandar hemon managed to describe the outbreak of the war as well, even to us – bosnians. as i wrote several times already, i was only seven years old when the war started and i didn’t manage to comprehend the cause of the war and what would be its outcome. years after the war had ended i understood that nobody could tell as much. as hemon wrote “i have spent time trying to comprehend how everything i had known and loved came violently apart..”. as a person who found himself abroad at the beginning of the war, he was maybe in a better position to see where we were going and where the war would lead us:  “if my mind and my city were the same thing then i was losing my mind.” finally, he wrote: “it was all over. the world had arrived and now we were all waiting to see who would live, who would kill, and who would die”. the outbreak of the war in bosnia was a defining moment in hemon’s life. just like many bosnians, he had to start a new episode: “on may 1, I didn’t fly home. on may 2, the roads out of the city were blocked; the last train (with my parents on it) departed; the longest siege in modern history began. in chicago, i submitted my application for political asylum. the rest is the rest of my life.”

my favorite part of the book was hemon’s return to sarajevo for the first time after the war had ended. or even better, his return to chicago afterwards. he wrote something which defines my feelings towards home: “when i came back from my first visit to sarajevo, in the spring of 1997, the chicago i came back to belonged to me. returning from home, i returned home.”

on 20th april i began my new life.

after seven years living in milan, i moved to vienna. meaning: a new city, a new language and a new life.

i had moved a few times already, for the first time when i was fifteen – i left the town i grew up in and moved to sarajevo. four years later, after i had finished high-school, i went to malaysia where i stayed for another four years. even though moving to malaysia might seem like more of a change, i would say that leaving home when i was fifteen was a defining moment in my life. it meant the change of lifestyle. it meant that i would no longer live with my parents, that i would have more freedom, but it also meant that i would be on my own. after graduation, i moved again. this time closer to home, to italy. unlike with the previous episodes, i didn’t have any idea how long the new episode would last, since it did not involve school or uni. as it turned out, it was the longest one – i had been living in italy for seven years before i decided it was time for me to move on.

so, here i am. at the beginning of a new life. i have to say that all my lives taught me what i had to learn, and all of them were very interesting, exciting and sometimes exhausting. each of my lives brought me a new hometown, a new language and many interesting people to meet.

however, my new life will be slightly different from my previous ones. i will have support – my husband, the reason i am here.

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out of africa

“i had a farm in africa at the foot of the ngong hills..”

with these words karen von blixen (with her pen name isak dinesen) starts her memoir “out of africa”. she narrates her life in the farmland in the ngong hills, southwest of nairobi.

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“i had a farm in africa at the foot of the ngong hills. the equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. in the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.”

this memoir was later turned into a movie (which i STILL did not see!), starring meryl streep & robert redford. however, the movie is only loosely based on the book. unlike the movie, the novel does not have a defined plot, it in the slow way narrates the author’s years spent in africa; it contains mix of landscapes of kenya, events with natives and author’s plans, dreams and thoughts.

and this is how i decided to group all those lovely quotes i came across when reading the book.

the first part is dedicated to africa, its landscapes and emotions it creates in the author. it is also a part which inspired me to start planning a trip to that corner of the world.

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“the geographical position, and the height of the land combined to create a landscape that had not its like in all the world. there was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere; it was africa distilled up through six thousand feet, like strong and refined essence of a continent.”

“the views were immensely wide. everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequealled nobility.”

“when you have caught the rhythm of africa, you find that it is the same in all her music.”

the second part is dedicated to development of author’s emotions and feelings towards life during the eighteen years spent in africa.. what she has learned from the natives and from the nature itself, how she became addicted to her surrounding, and finally, how she was feeling when she realized she ought to sell the farm and move back to europe.

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“perhaps he knew, as i did not, that the earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.”

“up in this air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. in the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: here i am, where i ought to be.”

“my life, i will not let you go except you bless me, but then i will let you go.”

“there are things which cannot be carried through even with the good will of everybody concerned”

“when in the end, the day came on which i was going away, i learned the strange learning that things can happen which we ourselves cannot possibly imagine, either beforehand, or at the time when they are taking place, or afterwards when we look back on them.”

i absolutely loved this book. it reminded me how important it is to be connected to our homeland, no matter if it’s the country we were born in or the country we decided to make our home. after all, this world is our homeland.